First, Tim Cahill is an extraordinary Australian. I truly believe this.
I first interviewed him for a magazine cover in the post-2006 World Cup media frenzy when the Caltex Socceroos became truly household names.
Fresh faced but focussed and already planning for the challenges ahead, he struck me as more than just your average footballer.
Ten years later, nothing’s changed.
After a decade of extraordinary achievements – scoring some freakish goals at two subsequent World Cups, and aiming for a fourth World Cup in 2018, goal scorer at three Asian Cups and a winner of one, EPL, MLS, China and now as the pin-up boy at 36 of the Hyundai A-League – Cahill is still thinking ahead, still restless, still wanting more out of his body, his teammates and his nation.
And his passion to grow the game in Australia remains undimmed.
In part one today (part two tomorrow), he discusses why Caltex Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou is like a soul mate on the journey to make football the biggest sport in Australia.
The younger boys at City, their mentality, their attitude, what do you see?
Firstly, for every young player, there’s an opportunity to play. Including youngsters.
The first thing you want from them is discipline.
Players who listen and who want to be part of the group and learn.
And we implemented that early on when we went to Townsville for a ten-day camp.
Playing them in games against Auckland City, Bruno [Fornaroli] the captain for one half, me the captain for the second, with young boys like [Daniel] Arzani, Connor Chapman and others.
And they need to know they can bounce off players like myself and be in the same mixer and be valued in the same way.
Now, the biggest thing with anything is even with the players that we have who are a little older, consistency, you need consistency in training, train well, not to miss training not to miss games and to be available and to be professional.
Because you look at our set up, it has to be one of the best in the league. I can only speak for our club, but it’s exceptional.
And it’s set up like an English football club.
And you have a leadership group that drives the culture and allows younger players to take their chances?
I recognise talent, I recognise when players need an arm around them. I also recognise when they need support off the park.
And that’s all part of the leadership group. Bruno being the captain, and Tommy Sorensen, Manny Muscat, Michael Jakobsen, Neil Kilkenny and myself.
There’s a real strong level of respect in the changing room which we set early on.
Being a pro footballer is not just the hours you’re at the club is it? The nutrition, recovery, looking after yourself, doing all the things when people aren’t watching you…
One hundred percent…
How much of that message is getting through?
We joked with the staff the other day, I said with Arzani and I’m all over him.
Because he played against Auckland and was exceptional. He’s a natural talent. Ripped their defence in half. Now it’s about consistency, can he play? Can he do it in front of a bigger crowd?
You look at Bruce Kamau, Connor Chapman, then there’s Josh Rose, 35-years-old one of the fittest players in the team.
I think what you do off the park is the reason I’m still in the game.
So when they see you running, pressing to win the ball back straight away it’s infectious.
Same as the Socceroos.
Once they see you do it. Once they see you not missing training. They’ve got to ask questions of themselves. Are they doing enough? And that’s the ethos I learned with Ange in a big way.
Do your job. And if there’s another one to be done, don’t ask. Just do it. Help them.
When a famous person is doing the hard yards, that’s a powerful statement and a powerful sign.
That’s the key.
People have the perception that when you’re 36-years-old, you can’t run 10k a game or beat Western Sydney [in the Cup] with an old hack, or score the winner coming off the bench in Abu Dhabi. You shouldn’t be scoring 48 goals …
This is what Ange [Postecoglou] is talking about. Why can’t your next tournament be the biggest tournament?
And the World Cup was…and I did it, but I couldn’t do it without him believing in me. Supporting me and giving me something to chase and chase. And then me coming home to the A-League.
Who’s taking all the pressure? I am. But I’m at peace with that. I’m loving it. I’m happy to be in the firing line.
And you could’ve gone pretty much anywhere?
I was two years signed in China. It was near enough done and dusted then I thought, ‘what’s there to lose’?
Just go. The story of my life has been battling and fighting. Not to prove people wrong but to keep playing.
If you want an education, read Ange Postecoglou’s book [‘Changing The Game’]. He’s gone about his business slowly and quietly.
And that’s pretty much a reflection of him as a coach to what I am as a player.
Describe the meeting of minds…
I met someone in Australia who loves football in Australia more than me. And that’s hard to find.
He can change the game because he loves it.
Some people in the game don’t love it. They like it but they don’t understand it.
They don’t know what comes with it. And that’s the biggest thing, there are some misconceptions about comments he may make, what he wants is people to understand because we’re Australian, we don’t have to settle. That whole, ‘we’re Aussies, that’s okay, we don’t have to win. You take the Cup, we’ll go back to Australia’.
We wouldn’t have won the Asian Cup if we had that mentality. And let’s not forget, Bresch [Mark Bresciano] and I weren’t on the park. Tomi Juric won the ball back and Jimmy Troisi scored the winner.
And that’s the mindset of using 30 players in a squad to win something. It’s not one individual.
When you look around the league, what do you see?
The funny thing is, the most successful coaches in the A-League, Popa [Tony Popovic, coach of Wanderers], Muzzy [Kevin Muscat, coach of Victory, Aloisi [John Aloisi, coach of Roar] we had to fight for everything, every single day, every single week.
We all have our own stories, our own individual upbringings.
And likewise Ange, with what he’s written in his book, I can relate to that.
We’ve created our own talents through hard work. Now we’re rewarding our talents.
Popa won the Asian Champions League in his first tilt in Asia. Brand new club. Never be done. Look, I hope it is and I hope it’s us, but it may never be done again in our lifetime.
An Australian did that. In a salary cap league. It makes me wonder, if he does that and we win an Asian Cup, what do you have to do to wake people up?
Part two tomorrow…